The next blog in Pop Culture Spotlight continues our examination of themes presented in Netflix’s hit show 13 Reasons Why. As businesses, educators, and politicians struggle to understand and gain access to the heart of the ‘Millennial’ generation, we aim in this blog to explore how the interactions of high school students depicted in 13 Reasons Why are indicative of the pervasiveness of new media and smart devices.
As a reminder, the show chronicles the series of both benign and tragic events which lead to the suicide of high school junior Hannah Baker. Each episode depicts the story of one person and how their actions or inactions contributed to Hannah’s perception of her life, and her ultimate choice to end it. Set in a modern high school, every student has a smart phone and the student’s use of them are prominent in several story lines.
In examining the theme of the impact of smart devices, it is interesting to note that Hannah’s choice of media for telling her story is by modern associations archaic. Using a series cassette tapes and paper maps to record her story, Hannah deliberately rejects the new media and smart devices that are ubiquitous in her classmates lives.
However, we quickly witness the impact of these devices on Hannah’s high school experience. Following her slightly awkward first kiss with Justin, Hannah arrives at school the next day to discover pictures of her underwear (taken by Justin the night before) have been texted to her classmates (see above photo). Smart devices and new media make our connections instantaneous, but for Hannah, this connection has upsetting and immediate ramifications. Hannah’s embarrassment and shame is compounded by the physical evidence – the photo – and its universal access – through smart phones.
The show also depicts the danger of anonymity in social media – rumors are started and spread through online forums, pictures and videos are shared, all the while adding new layers to her continued torment and rejection. By combining these new formats with more ‘old fashioned’ media – a school publication and a handwritten note – we watch as Hannah cannot escape the opinions and judgements of her peers.
While we start to understand more about the addiction economy and the impact of smart devices and social media on the Millennial generation, it is important to consider the negative ramifications of this level of unpresented access – to each other, to information, and to various forums. In highlighting the role of these devices and media in our everyday interactions, 13 Reasons Why critiques not only their universality but the physical, material, and emotional damage they can cause.